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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Epiphany 6 February 16, 2014

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

In our first reading, Moses has led God’s people to the border of the promised land. He is not going to be able to go with them. The year is around 1200 B. C.,  over three thousand years ago. The people have been journeying through the wilderness for forty years, and now they are about to enter this new phase of their life together. This is the end of a long speech by Moses. He is trying to get across to the people everything that they will need to know in order to lead their lives, as individuals and as a community, in the way God wants them to live.

Moses says a dramatic thing. He says, “I have set before you today, life and prosperity, death and adversity, Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God….” In the preceding chapters, Moses has outlined the framework within which God’s people are called to live. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann lists the main  values involved in loving God and our neighbors, values which have been discussed in Moses’ speech to the people: “sharing feasts with the hungry (Deut. 14:27-29; canceling debts that the poor cannot pay (15:1-11); organizing government to guard against excessive wealth ((17:14-20); sharing hospitality with runaway slaves (23:156-16); not charging interest in loans in the covenant community (23:19-20);  paying hired hands promptly what they earn (24:14-15); leaving the residue of harvest for the disadvantaged (24:19-22); and limiting punishment in order to protect human dignity (25:1-3).” I list these because they make clear that Moses and God are clearly spelling out how we are called to behave when we set out to love God and our neighbor.

When God promises life and prosperity to those who love God and neighbor, God is not talking about material prosperity and the accumulation of wealth, power, and possessions. God is talking about the spiritual prosperity of a community life based on compassion and concern for others and rooted in our awareness and experience of God’s love for us.

In our epistle, we continue with a reading of Paul’s letter to the strife-torn congregation in Corinth.  As we recall, some of the members of the community are extremely arrogant, saying that they have special knowledge that no one else has.  Paul speaks to them as a nursing mother, telling them that he fed them with milk because they were not mature enough for solid food. This must have been a shock to them. I think he said this in order to puncture the balloon of their arrogance.

Various factions are saying that they belong to Paul or to Apollos. But Paul weaves all of this divisiveness into a beautiful tapestry of faith and wisdom when he offers a metaphor of growth. Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, and God gave the growth. We all have a common purpose, Paul says, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our gospel, Jesus is continuing the Beatitudes. He is calling us to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter. It’s safe to say that none of us has murdered anyone literally. But have we spoken harshly or sarcastically? Have we gotten to the end of our rope and said things we wish we could take back? Have we looked on others with contempt or called someone a fool? These are not literal murder, but we all know the damage that words can do. That old saw, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply not true.

Jesus calls us to be reconcilers. If we have a problem with someone, we need to go and try to work it out with them.

Then Jesus tackles the issue of adultery. But, once again, he goes to the spirit of the thing. If we look on other people as objects for our gratification, that is as bad as committing adultery. We are called to be completely and utterly faithful to our marriage commitments. We are called to treat each other with profound respect and caring.

We need to take Jesus’ words on divorce within the context of his culture. In Jesus’ time, a man could divorce his wife for a trivial reason, for example,  if he did not like her cooking. He could write up a certificate of divorce and she would be out in the street. Women and children in Jesus’ time were considered as property, possessions,  like a chair. The technical word for this is chattel. Women and children were things. So, if a man divorced a woman, and she was left alone to fend for herself, she had no means of support and no social status. She would have to go back to her family in disgrace and try to live under the protection of a male relative. If she could not do that, she would often have to resort to prostitution, a profession which is totally dependent on the objectification of persons.

Jesus says here that the only justification for divorce is adultery, but he is speaking here to men who commonly would divorce their wives for trivial reasons.  In Jesus’ culture, there was no awareness of such a thing as domestic violence or emotionally abusive behavior.  Abuse tears the fabric of a relationship. It destroys marriages.

Jesus is calling us to a higher level of commitment and behavior. He is calling us to the highest levels of compassion. He says that if our right eye causes us to sin, we should tear it out. This is one of those comments that we need to take in a spiritual sense. Jesus is not advising us to perform self-mutilation. But he is saying that, if there is something that gets in the way of our being compassionate, we need to deal with it. We need to ask God’s help and probably get professional help to work our way over it or through it so that it does not get in the way of our  spiritual growth.  We have to do whatever it takes to live lives of compassion, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In all of our readings for today, we are being called to high standards of thought and behavior.  The Beatitudes are a blueprint for personal and cultural transformation. It’s hard work!

And it is a journey filled with joy and meaning.  Thank God that we are not alone on this journey. We have our loving God, and we have each other and the entire Communion of Saints.  May God lead us and guide us.  Amen.

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